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Create an Explosive Cover With Precise Photo Manipulation Techniques

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Read Time: 16 min

In this tutorial, we're going to make a creative illustration in a style meant for a video game cover or sci-fi book cover. We'll create this with mostly photo manipulation techniques. With some cool Photoshop options you can turn all the photos you chose, into one stunning looking explosive cover.

It's amazing, how easy this can be done, all you need is just a good idea and some solid basics in Photoshop. The hardest part in doing this, is finding the right images. I chose them carefully, as the better photos chosen, the less time it will take you to create this quality illustration. Let's get started!

Final Image Preview

Let's take a look at the image we'll be creating. You can view the final image preview below or view a larger version here.

Step 1

Open this picture of a masked woman. Go to the Layers Pallette, double-click with the left mouse button on the layer to unlock it. Now you can move the picture. Position it nicely on the left side of the mask.

Start repairing the photo by copying some part of the right side of the mask, and applying it to the missing part of the left side. Use the Lasso Tool (L), draw a selection, then Copy (Command + C) this piece and Paste (Command + V) as a new layer.

Step 2

Now that you have still selected this little piece, lower its Opacity just a touch. Go to Edit > Free Transform > Distort. Try give it a bit of perspective.

Step 3

Now grab the Eraser Tool (E), set the Master Diameter to about 12px, and Hardness at 90%. So now that you have this positioned and transformed, you can just start erasing some disturbing parts to bring back the original look. This process can also be done with the Pen Tool (P), but I like sometimes do things with the Eraser Tool. When you're done, select these two layers and hit Command + E (since we have only two layers you can also go to Image > Flatten Image) this will merge them into one layer.

Step 4

If someone has problems with repairing pictures, I recommend just to leave the picture the way it was originally. In the final result, I'll show you how to cover this imperfection.

For those of you, who have LucisArt, there is a very good moment now to use it. Make sure that you have the same settings shown below.

Step 5

It looks great, now you need to cut the mask out of the picture. Grab the Pen Tool (P), zoom very close, so that you can see image pixelizing, and start cutting. When you finish the path, right-click with the mouse and select Make Selection, then hold Command + Shift + I (that will invert your selection) and hit Delete on the keyboard. Now you have erased everything except our mask.

Step 6

Your image should look just like this. The red circle points to a spot that we need to copy (Command + C) using the Lasso Tool (L) or Elliptical Marquee Tool (M).

Step 7

We're going to repair this tube bottom. Paste (Command + V) the piece you copied in the previous step. Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Vertical.

Step 8

Place this little repairing piece layer under our mask. Position it a few pixels up, and erase some disturbing parts from the bottom to make it rounder.

Step 9

As you can see, it looks kind of flat now. We need to put some shadow inside the tube. To do this, use the Burn Tool (O), set it to Highlights, and set the Flow to around 100%. Remember to paint on this little piece layer that is below our mask. Make it dark, and leave a few lighter spots near the bottom edge.

Step 10

Go to the Layers Palette, press Command, and left-click on each layer. This will select both layers. Then hit Command + E to merge them. OK, so we are done with the first phase of this tutorial. Now we can get to the point.

Start with creating a new document around 1200 pixels by 1200 pixels, with a Resolution of 300 pixels/inch. Grab the Paint Bucket (G) Tool, set your Foreground Color to black, and fill the background with it. Now drag our mask into this document, and rename it "Mask."

By the way, I thought it would be nice to correct some shadows. Go to Image > Adjustments > Shadow/Highlights and you can the settings shown for some correction.

Step 11

Turn off the "Mask" layer and open the brick wall image, and name it "Wall." Go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast and try to make this wall darker. Drag it into the project document, then use Edit > Free Transform to decrease its size to make it fit our project document.

Step 12

Now, we will make a brush, which will help us to get some various results with erasing. If something is unclear, don't worry, everything will be explained in the next steps. Open a new document 900 pixels by 900 pixels, with a Resolution of 300px/inch, and a black background. Unlock the "Background" layer (mouse left double-click on the layer).

Set the Foreground Color to white, and Background Color to black. Go to Filters > Render > Clouds. Grab a very soft, quite big Eraser Tool (E) with Hardness at 0%, and Flow of 30%. Erase all edge parts and make a lot of soft deep cuts in these clouds (somewhere around the red circles indicated below).

Step 13

When you're done, go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and click OK. We just created a brush, that we will use as an eraser. Because the clouds are always different, you can repeat this process to make about 2 or 3 brushes. It will give you more variety later.

Select "Wall" layer, pick Eraser Tool (E), right-click mouse and find our new brush. Select it, set a big Diameter 300-400px. Hardness 0%, Flow 70%. Now erase some parts around the wall.

Step 14

Next, open the cracks texture. Drag it into our project, place it above the "Wall" layer. Name this layer "Break." Then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels, and give the darker color some expression.

Step 15

Position the "Break" layer nicely and change its Blending Mode to Multiply. Then Copy/Paste (Command + J) this layer. Move the copied layer one pixel up and one pixel left by hitting the keyboard arrows (it makes the cracks just a bit wider). Note: To move this layer with the keyboard arrows, you need to have Move Tool (V) selected.

Step 16

Now, make a new layer above. Name it "Hole." Next, set the Foreground Color to black and grab the Brush Tool (B). Right-click and find your cloud brush. Use a big Diameter of 300-400px, with Hardness of 0%, and Flow of 70%. We need to darken the place where the wall-break will be.

Step 17

Turn on the "Mask" layer and drag it above all the layers. Next, grab the Burn Tool (O), then set it to Highlights, and Flow to 100%. Paint on the bottom edges of the mask, cover them completely. Also, cover some spots where the top red line points.

Step 18

It looks much better now. But the mask is still too big for this image. Let's go to Edit > Free Transform and make it smaller. Note: try to hold Shift + Alt while transforming, as it will give you a perfect smaller shape.

Step 19

OK, great. Now we need to leave this project for a while. Minimize this document, open the photo of bricks and unlock it. As you can see, it's very noisy, even if resized smaller. In this case, I decided to go for Filter > Noise > Reduce Noise, and played for a while with the settings. The result isn't shocking, but it surely corrects this image a little.

Please remember, you are working now in a new document, do not drag this image into your project document now, as it will only bring over a mess.

Step 20

Next you need to do is to Copy/Paste (Command + J) this layer because we will be using two versions of those bricks. Turn the copy off for now and apply Image > Adjustments > Selective Color to the first layer.

Step 21

Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels and try to give this image a more explosive look.

Step 22

Now is the right time to drag this picture into your project document. But before you do this, use Edit > Free Transform and make it about 40% smaller. Name this layer "Bricks 3" and place it below the "Mask" layer as shown.

Step 23

Now just get rid of the hard edges using the Eraser Tool (E) with our clouds brush. You can erase whatever part you want, just be careful, try not to leave some soft half-transparent bricks by erasing because it will look unrealistic.

Step 24

When you're done erasing, go back to the bricks document. Now turn on your copy of the bricks layer and apply Image > Adjustments > Levels with the settings shown below. Resize it to a smaller image. Note: do not close this bricks document, you're going to need it later.

Step 25

Drag this layer into our project document and name it "Bricks 2." Position this image the way it fits the best. Go to Edit > Transform > Distort. Now try to give some perspective to those bricks.

Step 26

Grab Eraser Tool (E) and repeat the erasing process, like it was done in previous steps.

Step 27

Now repeat Step 25. Drag your copy of bricks again to the project document, but do not use Distort as previously. Name the layer "Bricks 1." This time position it in the middle. Go to Edit > Free Transform, rotate it horizontally (90 degrees to right). Then right-click on the image, select Flip Vertical. Rotate it more to the top. Now, erase most of the image, leave just a few bricks up, but not too many. We don't want to make it too messy.

Step 28

It's time to put those bricks in order. Those three layers should be below the "Mask" layer in the particular order shown below.

Step 29

Make a new layer above the bricks layers, but below the "Mask" layer. Name it "Shadow." Now use the Brush Tool (B), select our cloud brush with the same settings as previously: big Diameter of 300-400px, Hardness of 0%, and Flow of 70%. Also, make sure your Foreground Color is set to black. Then paint in the middle and just a little around the mask.

Step 30

Here is a moment when you need to create an illusion that the mask is starting to appear among these exploding parts. As I said before, I'll show you how to cover the left side of the mask, the one that was fixed in the first steps.

So, the red lines show you where to paint. I assume you still have the black cloud brush selected. We will be using it again. Go to the Layers Palette, make sure your "Mask" layer is selected, and add a Layer Mask to it. Now select this Layer Mask and paint with black where the red lines indicate. We're now covering some mask edges with the bricks explosion.

Remember to use various settings of Master Diameter for the brush. For tiny spaces use a small brush, and for bigger spots increase the diameter.

Step 31

Now select the "Mask" layer. Go to the Layers Palette, Alt-click in on the Adjustment Layer icon to add Selective Color.

Step 32

If you did it right, a New Layer window with Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask option should appear. Make sure you check that option.

Step 33

Now we have an adjustment layer that is adjustable anytime you want. You can change your settings by double-click on the layer's thumbnail whenever you like. So lets give this mask a nice fitting color. We're actually going to make the mask colors warmer. First select Yellows from the Colors option and then Cyans, use the setting shown below for both.

Step 34

The mask now has better colors, and as I was looking closer at it, I noticed that we can add a brick reflection to the glass. Use the Lasso Tool (L) and draw a selection around the area that will be reflected. Switch to the "Bricks 3" layer, then Copy (Command + C) and Paste (Command + V) this piece. Name it "Reflection" and put it above all the other layers.

Step 35

Lower its Opacity somewhere around 30%. Go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal, position this reflection in the goggle. Grab the Eraser Tool (E) with a normal round brush. Set the Flow to 100%, and the Hardness to about 90%. Erase some edges with a small diameter, to fit it to the goggle glass.

Step 36

Now use the Pen Tool (P) to draw a selection inside the goggle. When you're done making the path, right-click and select Make Selection.

Step 37

Make a new layer above all, name it "Glass Shadow." Now select the Gradient Tool (G). Press "D" on the keyboard to reset your colors. Make sure your Foreground Color is black. Now go to the Gradient Editor and select Foreground to Transparent. Drag the gradient from a few pixels below selection to the center of it. Deselect the selection (Command + D).

Step 38

For this project, I made a render in Cinema 4D. It looks like an explosion of hundreds of little sharp pieces. This will give a more destructive effect to our project.

So open the this file and drag it to bricks document (assuming you didn't close it). This file is in PNG format, so it's transparent, you don't have to cut out the white background. Name this layer "Pieces 1".

Step 39

Rotate your bricks to have more light spots under the "Pieces 1" layer. Go to the Layers Palette, hold Command + left-click on the "Pieces 1" layer thumbnail. You should see the selection loaded. Now select the layer with bricks, name it "Pieces 2," the use Command + Shift + I and hit the Delete key on the keyboard. We just deleted everything except the shape of pieces from bricks. Select this two layers and drag them to your project document.

Step 40

Turn off the "Pieces 2" layer, and lets focus for a while on "Pieces 1." Lets order them in the layers palette. Put both those pieces layers above the "Hole" layer (and place "Pieces 2" above "Pieces 1"). Now go to "Pieces 1" Blending Options, and give it some Inner Shadow, to avoid the flat look.

Step 41

Now turn on the "Pieces 2" layer, set its Blending Mode to Multiply and Copy/Paste it (Command + J). Name the new layer "Pieces 3."

If you like you can merge those three layers and do some corrections. You can use the Eraser Tool (E) with a normal brush with 100% Hardness and 100% Flow, to erase dark pieces, if you have any.

Ok great! We only need a nice title now. Grab the Type Tool (T) and type "Breakdown" (I used Autumn font).

Step 42

We're going to use a nice texture to fill this text. Open this file. Go to Image > Adjustment > Desaturate, then Edit > Define Pattern. Close this document and go back to our project.

In the Layers Palette, select the "Breakdown" layer, right-click the mouse on it, and select Blending Options. Now use the same options for Pattern Overlay and Gradient Overlay.

Step 43

Next, we going to need bricks again. Open the document with bricks and drag the bricks image to our project. Name it "Breakdown Overlay." Position it on the "Breakdown" layer. Make a few rotations, try to find the best looking spot (not too dark, also not to bright) and then position it in the place of text.

Hold Command + left-click on the "Breakdown" layer's thumbnail. It should load its selection. Then make sure you have selected the "Breakdown Overlay" layer. Use Command + Shift + I and hit Delete.

Step 44

Now, as you can see, Photoshop cut out everything around the selection, leaving textured text, and that's exactly what we wanted. Set this "Breakdown Overlay" layer Blending Mode to Overlay. Next, hold Command + left-click on the "Breakdown Overlay" layer's thumbnail, which loaded the selection.

Make a new layer above all and name it "Stroke." Now grab a Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), right-click mouse and select "Stroke", apply the same settings as shown below. Deselect the selection with Command + D.

Step 45

Lower the Opacity of the "Stroke" layer to 44%. Make a group and call it "Shining lines." Place it below the "Breakdown Overlay" layer. Now we'll be working in this group. Make a new layer inside and name it "B line." Grab the Brush Tool (B) and set your Foreground Color to white and select the first brush from the palette, which is 1px with 100% Hardness.

Now use the Pen Tool (P), draw a straight line on the "B" letter from top to bottom. To make it straight hold Shift while setting the second anchor point. Right-click and select "Stroke Path," check the Simulate Pressure option, and hit OK. Deselect the path.

Step 46

Repeat the previous step for each letter. I suggest you Copy/Paste (Command + J) the "B line" layer eight times and place it on each letter's left edge. In "A" and "W" letters case, you will need to rotate (Edit > Free Transform) this small line to fit the edge.

Note: We won't be doing anything more in this group, so you can close the layers inside the group by clicking this little arrow near the group eye icon. (Remember not to turn off the group though!)

Step 47

Select the "Breakdown Overlay" layer, hold Command + left-click on the "Breakdown Overlay" layer's thumbnail to load its selection. Grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), hold Alt, make a selection around the top of the letters (while still holding Alt), and release everything. It should automatically erase the selection from the top of letters. Now, do the bottom the same way. You should have a selection going through the text center, as shown below.

Step 48

Make a new layer above all, name it "Middle lines." Set your Foreground Color to white. Grab the Brush Tool (B), make a big brush. Set the Hardness to 0% and set the Flow to around 30%. Now just paint. You're painting inside the selection, so you can't touch any other spots with your brush, except for the selection inside the letters. Make some nice soft brushing on the word "Break" then switch to a black color and do the same with the rest of the text "Down."

Step 49

In the end, I wanted to add something like a chapter to this title. Use the Type Tool (T) and type the text with a nice thin font of your choice.


The title text gives the final unique look to this project. In an illustration like this, it's good to decorate text with embedded textured images. It gives a very nice overall look.

Thanks for reading this tutorial. I really enjoyed making it. I hope you learned some new and useful techniques. You can view the final image below or view a larger version here.

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